Lott Says Saints And Mississippi Are A Good Match

Jackson (AP) -- If the New Orleans Saints decide to leave the Crescent City, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott thinks southern Mississippi would be an ideal home.

Lott, a Pascagoula resident, says he has spoken to Saints officials and will do whatever he can to help the state lure the NFL franchise.

``I think it's a good idea, and I smile when I say that because my friends in Louisiana don't like it too much,'' Lott, R-Miss., said Friday in Jackson. ``But if the choice is San Antonio, Texas, or south Mississippi, it just might work.''

Saints owner Tom Benson has said he doesn't want to leave New Orleans, where the Saints began playing in 1967, but he's looking at alternatives. Benson indicated that his preference would be a new stadium in New Orleans or renovations to the Louisiana Superdome and a renegotiated lease that would mean more money for the team. Other options are moving the team to another city or elsewhere in the Gulf South, such as Hancock County.

``It is possible, and I think we ought to _ as a state and the Saints, take a look at a site across the line in Mississippi,'' Lott said.

``The point is: How can we keep them in the region,'' he said. ``How can it be good for Mississippi and Louisiana.''

Mississippi officials have met privately with the Saints, and the state is expected to hire a Chicago consultant who specializes in sports franchise issues. Michael Olivier, executive director of the Harrison County Development Commission, said his agency and the Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission are working with the Mississippi Development Authority to determine if a deal would work.

``We're trying to analyze whether this can be a win proposition for all parties concerned,'' Olivier said. ``To do that, we're at a point where we have to make some expenditures on expert assistance to go forward and make this analysis.''

Olivier would not elaborate, and an MDA spokeswoman said it was the agency's policy not to discuss potential economic development possibilities.

Gov. Ronnie Musgrove on several occasions has mentioned the possibility of the Saints relocating to Mississippi, but he too has declined to talk about specifics. Lott said his job as senator is to make sure the state has adequate roads and utilities and well-trained people to attract business ventures, ``but in the end it has to be turned over to state development people.''

``They have to see if it's feasible to have something like this on the drawing board,'' he said. Even if it doesn't happen, Lott said, the effort will have been good for the state.

``Just by suggesting the idea maybe helps Mississippi to think bigger, not what can't be done but what can be done,'' he said. ``I'll do whatever is necessary.''

(Copyright 2001 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)